Cogut Institute for the Humanities

Film-Thinking: The Death of Maria Malibran

Film-Thinking is a series of curated screenings followed by conversations, co-hosted by the Cogut Institute for the Humanities at Brown University and Acoustic Java Microcinema and Café.

The first Film-Thinking event took place on October 28, 2019 at Acoustic Java. Alexander García Düttmann (University of the Arts, Berlin) selected Werner Schroeter’s film Der Tod der Maria Malibran (Germany, 1972). Düttmann was joined for the conversation by Gertrud Koch (Free University, Berlin, and Brown University) and Peter Szendy (Brown University). Timothy Bewes, Interim Director of the Cogut Institute, introduced and moderated the discussion. A Film Note was distributed at the screening with details about the film and extracts from two texts by Michel Foucault dealing with Schroeter’s work. What follows is an edited transcript of the discussion.

Read the Film Note

TIMOTHY BEWES: This film, which I am seeing for the first time this evening, reminds me a little of the work of Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub, in its performativity, but also in the radical disequivalence between the visual image and the sound image. Their work — or rather, a very short film by Straub from 2009 (Joachim Gatti, Variation de lumière) — was the subject of the talk that Alex was giving on the occasion we first met — a conference called “Thinking Feeling” at the University of Sussex. So that is the context of the question that I want to begin by asking you, Alex. What led you to select this film, The Death of Maria Malibran, for tonight’s discussion?

ALEXANDER GARCÍA DÜTTMANN: I’m very happy to be here tonight with you and Gertrud and Peter. The reason is very simple. It’s because I’m giving a paper on opera tomorrow, and I thought it would be nice to see a film tonight that would have something to do with opera. To be perfectly honest, my first suggestion was a different one. I was a bit scared to show this film. So my first suggestion was something much more accessible perhaps, Alexander Kluge’s The Power of Feelings (Die Macht der Gefühle).

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I wrote to Gertrud because I knew she would be here as well, and she said, Oh let’s not do Kluge, let’s do Werner Schroeter’s Der Tod der Maria Malibran. That had a very liberating effect upon me, because I much prefer Schroeter to Kluge and I thought it was a wonderful suggestion. So it is actually Gertrud who’s curating tonight’s event and not me — fortunately.

GERTRUD KOCH: Please no tomatoes! DÜTTMANN: I first saw the film in Paris, many years ago, and then again on the DVD that we watched tonight. As I was watching the film this evening, some of the elements of the film seemed to come together. Perhaps I could start off the conversation by just saying something about that. This afternoon I had no idea what I might say this evening. And then suddenly something happened that I had not thought about before. So, I’m going to start with a quotation from the film. At some point a voice asks a question, something like, “How can you be so sure what you will be doing in half an hour?” and then there’s a whole meditation around that. If I remember correctly, what is said is that ultimately the abnormal fact is not that something exceptional may happen within the next half an hour that interrupts the normal course of things — that diverts the expectation of doing this or that within the next half an hour; the abnormal fact is that we think there is such a thing as a continuity, that we can expect, as it were, to do this or that within half an hour, and that as long as we can do that, we seem to be quite happy and satisfied. And when I heard that, I asked myself, is this not something that takes us into the film, into this film? Because in this film — this is something so obvious that it is almost shameful to say it, but — what we seem to be watching is constant repetition. As if precisely the continuity had been interrupted. There’s no longer something happening after something else, and then something else happening in an orderly fashion — a fashion that allows for expectation, that allows us to anticipate what will happen, or the future, as that moment in the dialogue says. Here we are stuck; we keep seeing certain things again and again and again, or perhaps what we see are constant variations on something. So maybe what the film is about is what it calls the “abnormal fact.” What does that mean? It is that what would normally be seen as an exception is no longer exceptional, it becomes the rule. When that happens, and the continuity of the course of events is interrupted, you are stuck; all you can do is repeat again and again and again the same thing. You no longer do one thing after the other, as you normally would do, your satisfaction, your happiness, does not lie in that. And because you no longer know what could happen within the next second you are paralyzed, and you keep repeating something. That kind of repetition at the same time leads to something like an idealization, or an abstraction. It leads to something that gives us no longer empirical facts in an orderly fashion, but something like an essence or the quintessence of something. Here, perhaps, it is the essence of passion, or passion as an essence.

“ Maybe what the film is about is what it calls the ‘abnormal fact.’ What does that mean? It is that what would normally be seen as an exception is no longer exceptional, it becomes the rule. When that happens, and the continuity of the course of events is interrupted, you are stuck; all you can do is repeat again and again and again the same thing. ”

Maybe one idea of the film is that that is what opera is all about. That opera, in all its artificiality and its exaggeration — what opera gives us is the quintessence of affect, feeling, emotion, passion. I’m using these words as synonyms, but maybe later we can introduce distinctions. What leads to that, precisely, is repetition of the same, again and again and again. That’s also when the body freezes into a pose or a posture, as it were.

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One last thought before the others come in. There is another moment in the film when — it must be a quote from somewhere — it’s said in English: “as if she were incapable of her own distress.” I don’t remember the context exactly, but it doesn’t matter. You could also interpret this repetition and the idealization that comes with it, that leads to the quintessence of something: you are no longer distracted by the empirical facts. It’s that.

Perhaps that can also be interpreted, then, not just as a fulfillment — i.e., now we get to love itself, or passion itself, to something that seems to be stronger than me and carries me; rather, we get to something like an incapability. That would have to do with something that is also very present in the film, namely death or dying. The interminability of dying, as it were: that is, being incapable of one’s own distress.

What I’m trying to say is that there would be two takes on repetition here. One sense of it leads to the quintessence of something. Love itself, passion itself, in those always repeated gestures, very melodramatic, very exaggerated, very artificial, outside of normality, if you wish. That is what opera is all about. It’s always too much. The other side of repetition would be that the quintessence is also, in a certain and strange way, something related to a certain incapability. Namely of one’s own distress. These women in the film can’t die. They keep dying, but they can’t really die. There, where something seems to be accomplished — where you finally get to the essential moment of love, passion, distress, or whatever. You keep repeating it, you know, you don’t really attain a limit, but you remain on that limit and on that limit you keep repeating and it’s almost at that point as if one could not get to the quintessence of distress once and for all, but one also proved incapable of one’s own distress and that’s why there is this constant repetition. OK. Maybe that’s something for starters?

BEWES: Thank you, Alex. I’m going to ask a follow-up question and then I’ll pass the mic to the others. So, opera being “always too much” — this film being specifically about a particular kind of fascination with opera as a kind of halting of the action and a halting of the linear evolution of life itself. What is the significance of cinema in this structure that you’re presenting us with? So this film is dealing with opera, but where does cinema, as a form and as a mode of thought, fit into what you were just saying? Why is Schroeter here a filmmaker and not an opera director?

KOCH: He’s both. [To Düttmann] Do you want to answer?

DÜTTMANN: [laughter] I don’t care. I’ve spoken.

KOCH: OK, so taking up this question. I would say just a few words before I answer the question. I mean, I am a contemporary of the film. So ... we were all very young, and, in terms of aesthetic practices and experiences, performance and performativity was a big thing. So you would go in, let’s say, a swimming pool, without water, and have, there, an opera directed in the swimming pool. You would have, let’s say, a displacement of operatic sites into environments that could be caught with a camera. This was one thing. At the same time, there was a huge renaissance of silent film. In the seventies, the first retrospectives of early film were shown. Not to forget that in opera itself and in modern avant-garde music theater, you began to have already this merging with installation art, having screens on stage, having music with accompanied films. All these forms were at this moment in an experimental state. The really ingenious thing with Schroeter is that at some point he took it up. The aesthetic problem he worked on was indeed a cinematic problem. For the main difficulty, for opera, involves the incorporation of music. You can say a singer incorporates music, but an actor is incorporating a role. In modern music theater, and also in the more modern styles of directing operas, the singers also became actors. So they would also incorporate. That is extremely important here, because it’s not just, let’s say, a chain of quotes, of operatic gestures, or silent film gestures, but a way to incorporate these gestures into a cinematic body. So what we have here is a transformation of human bodies and incorporations into a filmic body. Large parts of the film have as backgrounds curtains, carpets, paint, backdrops. This is an aesthetic that comes from theater, from opera, from early film. But what is Schroeter doing with it? Well, he is melting these artificial backgrounds with the foregrounds; so you have this entire merging of foreground and background, and this gives this very strange vibrating image — what some refer to as a kind of mesmerizing effect. The image gets a kind of heartbeat. This, I think, is a cinematic innovation, one that he takes from experimental film — from avant-garde film. Bringing film towards a pure cinematic — in fact, a sound-cinematic — image. So it’s no longer just a talkie picture. It’s a sound-image. The image incorporates the sound. The film starts to sing. You have this kind of asynchronized movement of lips and bodies, as in karaoke, but it brings it together in an aesthetic unity, despite all these interruptions that Alex was referring to. This gives it this homogeneity. Let’s say the film becomes a kind of flesh. With sound, with color, with various sculptural moments, because human bodies against this flat background gain a kind of plasticity, an abstract plasticity. That had not been seen before in film, where usually you would see films as more or less naturalistic. The main rupture is with this paradigm, so to speak — to take the film as a living image.

But it’s not only the postures, as Alex said, but also the gestures. The gestures have a kind of double function. It’s not only the coded gestures, the semantic gestures, that we can read as a repertoire from opera or silent film — where the actresses would emphasize a kind of grandiosity of style to compete with the camera. Here you have what Wittgenstein would discuss as a kind of moment in which gestures are incorporated. It’s not that you have a sign system and then the body as a tool that would perform the sign system. It’s a kind of incorporated move, a move in the body. What the film brings out very well is, let’s say, this drivenness, in the body, towards these gestures as a kind of membrane between a coded world of signs and meaning and the material basis of a body as a kind of vibrating and feeling substance. That is part of the strange images we see: where the bodies themselves are sometimes, you know, “deformed,” but still very vibrant. This is why I like this film so much — and also other films by Schroeter; they reinvent cinema, especially with the combination with sound. When you look at the tradition of sound in film, it’s a very sad history. Here, though, you can say that maybe it’s a film where sound and music are part of the cinematic body and not just — as one of the film music historians called it — “unheard melodies” that are there like, you know, wallpaper in the background.

BEWES: Peter?

PETER SZENDY: So, I didn’t see the film before today, and I was quite anxious about what I would be able to say when I saw it. I started to do some quick readings and research before realizing that that was not the right way to do it. But still, I have some scraps of things I wanted to share with you. One of them was that I was looking for details about Maria Malibran’s life, which was not a very good idea.

KOCH: It’s not a biopic!

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SZENDY: But still, there was one detail that surfaced and kept haunting me. It’s the fact that, apparently, she performed with her father. On the stage in Rossini’s opera, she was playing Desdemona, and her father was Otello, and when he came up with a dagger, she was by all accounts afraid that he would kill her, because they had a very violent relationship. So, that detail continued to haunt me when I watched the film again this evening.

Another thing that I read (this anxiety to be able to say something) was the two texts where Michel Foucault mentions this film. One is a conversation with Schroeter; the other is an interview a few years earlier, I think for the Cahiers du cinéma, where he talks about Sade and sadism in contemporary film. He talks — maybe we can get back to that later in the conversation — he talks about the non-organicity, the disorganization (in the literal sense of the term) of the bodies in this film. Apparently, this idea struck Schroeter enough that he wanted to meet Foucault and talk with him. With these two things in mind, I decided that I would not close my eyes. (That’s not a good idea, either, when you watch a film.) But after having seen the film, to sort of close my eyes and forget all these things and details and to ask: what is it that remains — without plot, without trying to demonstrate anything. Actually, I had two insisting images. One of them, the first image that then recurs: the knife and the eyelid; and, immediately after that, the mouth with the make-up. I kept seeing a connection and a re-invented connection between the eye and the mouth. What came to my mind is that the eyelid, you say paupière in French, palpebra in Italian — it has to do with the lips, in a way. When you close your eye, closing the lids, there is something that is akin to the opening and closing of a mouth. So I saw this film as a constant variation about eyelids and mouth. Not in general, but by means of two impossible gestures. One of them would be for two eyes, two closed eyes to touch one another. In many moments, you have these two faces getting very, very close to one another and almost as if the two eyes are about to touch one another.

Actually, this reminded me of a beautiful sentence that Derrida wrote in a book called On Touching — Jean-Luc Nancy. He sort of dreams or fantasizes about what it would mean for two eyes to touch one another, and he asks: would it be night then or would it be day? A sort of limit of seeing and non-seeing. So I thought, what would happen in opera? What would be the equivalent impossible situation in the language or medium of opera?

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And this would be the second impossible gesture, when two mouths touch one another — say because they kiss. You can’t sing when you kiss, right? This is also silence. So you can’t see if the eye of the other is against yours, if it touches yours. And you can’t sing if you touch the mouth of the other. So I saw this film as a constant circling around these two impossibilities. It has to do with the question of love and passion. As it is raised by Foucault and Schroeter in their interview. The impossibility of being not only with, but being up against, right up against, with the other’s eye or being with the other’s mouth. They are constantly trying to do that, but they can’t.

DÜTTMANN: Perhaps because it’s not really the mouths that touch. The problem is: how can two voices touch? Two mouths can touch in a way, but if two voices were able to touch that would be the real accomplishment of both opera or singing and love, as it were. The love of opera would be that: two voices really touching. Of course, it’s not enough that we sing at the same time the same lines for us to say that our voices are touching. They are not. That’s not enough.

Maybe one more thought. I also ask myself: why is there this fairy tale in the middle of the film? — I call it a fairy tale. You know, where suddenly something like a minimal plot comes in, after we have no plot at all for most of the film.

BEWES: The sequence with the woman chasing the man.

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DÜTTMANN: Yes. One answer would be that what the fairy tale alerts us to is that there is a difference between seeing with one’s eyes, as we normally do, and a kind of second vision. Because here the eyes are restored in this kind of miracle that happens in the end to the girl who loses her eyes to that evil sorcerer or whatever he is. You asked, Tim, what does this have to do with cinema. Well, one way of answering the question is that watching a film is not just watching a film the way you naturally look, as it were, at things — that uninterrupted order where something happens after something and you can expect certain things to happen and it’s reasonable to do so, and so on. It’s a second vision, as it were. There is a repetition and this repetition of vision comes with an alteration. The vision that is restored is not the same as the initial vision. So, we watch differently. What is it that we watch, then, when one of the things we see — and maybe this is what only film can do, not theater, not opera — is repetition itself, because film is always about at least two images. As long as there is only one image, there is no such thing as film. There is photography, perhaps, or painting, but film is at least two images. So there is repetition built into film itself; the film visualizes itself all the time.

“ [Watching a film] is a second vision, as it were. There is a repetition and this repetition of vision comes with an alteration. The vision that is restored is not the same as the initial vision. So, we watch differently ... As long as there is only one image, there is no such thing as film ... there is repetition built into film itself; the film visualizes itself all the time ”

BEWES: I want to ask one more question and then we’ll open it up. It relates to the Foucault quotation. Foucault says several things in this little interview. First of all, that there is no love in Maria Malibran, and this claim has to do with the distinction he makes between love and passion: “These women are chained in a state of suffering that binds them together which they are unable to break away from but which at the same time they would do anything to free themselves from. All of this is different from love. In love there is, in a way, someone who is in charge of this love, whereas passion circulates between the partners.” So Foucault is wanting to establish an absolute distinction between love and passion, at least as it is dealt with in the film. I wonder if this might be a sort of taking-off point for placing this film in the history of cinema, a history that has been so fascinated by passion and affect. Where do we place this film, for example, in relation to Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, with its prolonged shots that focus very closely on Joan’s face, that, in fact, encourage us really to enter into her passion? Where, on the other hand, is this film in relation to an art project like Bill Viola’s The Passions, where he slows down the movements of the actors to such a degree that, again, one is apparently encouraged to enter into the minute variations of an experience of passion. What is this more operatic, more performative engagement with emotion doing in relationship to that larger history?

KOCH: I think there are two notions of passion involved here. One is this Christian notion of passion as suffering; and then you have the idea of passion as a drive that can be enacted through the body, through the flesh, so to say. In Schroeter you definitely have these illusions with the miserere: it goes to these musical forms and also to sculpture and so to a wonder of sufferance that leads to healing. That’s the fairy tale. But I think there is something else involved here that has more to do with what Alex referred to in his statement: the time and timing of passions. There is a moment in the film where you have the repetition of the woman taking back her hair. She is doing this monologue about time: “Let’s postpone it for tomorrow. Let’s postpone it for tomorrow.” This is like a quote from the time-theories about melodrama, where passions have to be unfulfilled. So it’s always something that will be tomorrow, but tomorrow will never happen, because people will die before. They die not after tomorrow, but before tomorrow. This is a negative time construction in melodrama, and I think Schroeter refers here to these melodramatic, let’s say, prerunners of opera — and also the cinematic post-runners. So that this is, you know, a repetition that has absolutely no future. Not the Kierkegaardian or Deleuzean concept of repetition, nor what Cavell is doing in The Pursuit of Happiness. It’s really much more leading to a kind of stilled sense that is a kind of social death.

DÜTTMANN: Maybe that’s also — this is not something I normally do, but why not? Lynne [Joyrich] said to me, it’s an example of queer cinema. Maybe this is where the queerness might come in. Whereas the heterosexuals expect something to happen in half an hour, and reasonably so — and there will be a fulfillment, or not — the queerness of the film is, as it were, to inhabit those two images, that repetition, that constantly repeated gesture that leads nowhere, because it’s only that one moment of passion without a development, which is both the quintessence and the incapability of fulfillment — but maybe there’s nothing else. Maybe that’s what there is.

KOCH: That’s a Baudelairian moment. I mean, À une passante. I would say, the modernist paradigm.

SZENDY: I would just add something very quickly to these thoughts. So it seems to me that when Foucault talks about passion versus love, what he says is that passion leads nowhere. Whereas love, he says, expects something in return, and is supposed to lead somewhere. So there is something, we could say, non-economic or an-economic, like a pure expenditure, in passion. This is the reason he says that passion is communication — not communication in the sense of communicating something, but more like a contagion, something that has no direction.

DÜTTMANN: Communication without transparency.

SZENDY: Yes. I was really interested in what Alex said: this quintessence of passion, this sort of quintessence of impossibility. So I was thinking of the eye and mouth and what happens. In a way, cutting or carving out the eye or graphically cutting out the mouth. It’s like isolating a pure eye or a pure mouth that is not meant to convey something. It’s just there, but at the same time, it’s an impossible eye or an impossible mouth. It’s not meant to sing something or see something. It’s just there.

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DÜTTMANN: It’s like in Beckett’s Not I! So — this is when we open it up.

LYNNE JOYRICH: Thank you for programming this film, which was amazing, and for your comments. I totally agree with what everybody said, and I was thinking that it’s very much, as you were saying, Gertrud, about the construction of cinema itself, between repetition and also — as you were talking about, Alex — tableaux. So there is both repetition and a sort of stillness; both body and voice that are there but not necessarily synched; both sound and image, which may come together or never come together, because — as in melodrama — things never quite match up. So I wanted to make the point that it’s about not just the operatic but specifically the cinematic melodramatic. It’s so much in reference not just to silent cinema melodrama but also to ’30s, ’40s, ’50s melodrama (like the work of Douglas Sirk). It’s playing with the inherent melodramaticness, in a way, of cinema — and this ties to the queer issue, because this is such a strong through-line in queer cinema. There was so much about this that resonates with, for example, the work of Jack Smith or with Kenneth Anger, of course with Fassbinder, with Todd Haynes, and even, in some ways, with John Waters. Across the history of queer filmmaking there’s been this deployment of melodrama as a way to get at — what? — the unsmoothedness of affect, the “jarredness” that affect can be. So again, I’m wondering if any of you have more thoughts about the way this ties to the history of queer cinema or even just the deployment of gender and sexuality, the performativity around gender and sexuality.

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BEWES: Well, we haven’t yet mentioned the performers, such as Candy Darling ...

SUZANNE STEWART-STEINBERG: Alex, when you were talking about the repetition compulsion that leads, in your opinion, to a kind of “abstraction” or “idealization” — these are the terms — but then you say, to “opera.” So, If I’m understanding correctly, you’re not saying it’s the abstraction that is the essence of opera, but that opera is that kind of abstraction. Is that correct? OK.

And to combine that with what, Gertrud, you were saying about the merging of foreground and background into the making of a sound-image. So I’m wondering how these two work together — the making of a sound-image, and opera as abstraction/idealization? One way, maybe, of thinking about this is to ask how we even talk about the music here. Because it’s not just sound bites. These are very, very carefully chosen pieces of music.

DÜTTMANN: “Curated,” they would say today.

STEWART-STEINBERG: Curated! Yes. Some are completely, of course, out of her time. Puccini, for example, does not belong there ...

BEWES: Nor Bessie Smith ...

STEWART-STEINBERG: Why you have Beethoven’s Triple Concerto going on for a long time is very peculiar. So it’s not demonstrative of anything, but, nevertheless, there is a choice. So I’m wondering how these two moves that you describe — opera and its cinematic form of existence — how we actually think about that in terms of the music.

SZENDY: I don’t really have an answer, just a thought. Maybe Alex will have some more. There is a line — I think it’s a quotation from Hamlet, about Ophelia, and it says something about “snatches of old tunes.” That, in a way, is the structure of the whole film. I think — and I don’t know if you would agree, Alex — I think it has something to do with what you were trying to say about the quintessence, because all these snatches of tunes, they try to catch, to seize, to grasp the quintessence of something — maybe passion, an affect, I don’t know. They do that all the more since they are snatches, precisely.

Hamlet Quote

It has also something to do with the knife, cutting, editing, but the quintessence.

KOCH: I think what was really new — but it was shared by this whole group of directors at the time, when you think about the Fassbinder films — these kinds of schmaltzy melodramatic songs play an enormous role, so what I think was the interesting work Schroeter is doing is not only the editing, but that it goes into a flow. This I always found very amazing. It’s like a composition. So, it’s composed and it has these variations between these popular songs and opera arias and absolute music.

STEWART-STEINBERG: Absolute music?

KOCH: Yes.

STEWART-STEINBERG: Is it Stravinsky at some point?

KOCH: Yes. Everything is there. It’s going into flow. This was my idea: to say, on some level, you don’t have any more sources. It is indeed a liberation from film music, from any inner diegetic need. It comes as a kind of composition in itself, and this I find very intriguing, in, let’s say, this combination of gestures. What film shares with theatre, but not with painting and other image-based arts, is that it works with live action, live actors. This, I guess, is a relationship between singing and doing, performing music, which are both bodily activities. It’s beyond electronic music at the time. You have these very old discs that are playing, historic things. Callas, all the campy things. It goes back to this problem of voice recording, sound recording, music that was before the image as in the orchestra for silent films. Then, how to bring the sound into the image? This was the main aesthetic problem for sound film. You can do it naturalistically, which is boring, as we know, but here, I think, you have two autonomous movements that are both referring to the fragility of the embodiment of sound in human bodies.

STEWART-STEINBERG: Isn’t there a strange way in which the music is diegetic?

KOCH: No. I think it’s diegetic only insofar as we have kind of micro-narrations of passion in it, but it’s not diegetic in the sense of a classical melodrama where you would have leitmotifs for the young hero, and so on. So no. It’s not Wagnerian.

BEWES: Until the end, right? Until her death, because at that moment ...

JOYRICH: Well, there are some moments even before that. But it does seem like the notion of syncing runs across the whole film. How to sync bodies with one another? How to sync bodies with affect? How to sync sound with image, or not? Again, that to me is the queerness of it, because there is no natural syncing, and it seems that the film plays with that. There’s also an affect of humor. There are moments that, because of the extreme passion, are really hilarious. The film is very funny in many ways. So there’s also the syncing, or lack of syncing, between the tragic and the comic.

DÜTTMANN: Yes, because that’s part of the repetition, once again, which is not being domesticated or submitted or integrated into an order, but is just the repetition itself. I wanted to stress something that Peter just said, one more time, because I also have the strong feeling that we don’t simply listen to that music, which so strangely fits, when actually it shouldn’t fit because it’s radically heterogeneous. Suddenly you hear this very slow interpretation of Ramona, and then, in the beginning, it’s Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody, so you know, it’s like things that don’t normally go together; but here we buy it. I do at least. It’s really mysterious why that happens. That mystery remains to be solved, perhaps, but there’s also the fact — and this is what Peter just said — that we listen to this music as if we were listening to an echo or snatches of old tunes. We don’t listen to it as something which is simply there. So there again you have this moment of repetition, something which is brought back. If cinema is also about a second vision, then everything you hear, the music, you have to listen to as if it were snatches of old tunes and not something simply, immediately, present and given.

“ If cinema is also about a second vision, then everything you hear, the music, you have to listen to as if it were snatches of old tunes and not something simply, immediately, present and given. ”

PAMELA FOA: I just wonder why you take repetition and the flatness of the cinema to be beautiful and not anxiety, a representation of anxiety. Because I think it’s much more that. If you don’t know where everything’s going then there’s nothing to take comfort from. That’s a very different feature of life ... It’s about the anxiety of life, it seems to me, which is much more predominant than the pulsating beauty that you see there.

DÜTTMANN: In the film, towards the end, there’s a reference to what you’re just saying. I mean, you could say the whole film is a reference to that, but there’s one point where it’s made explicit, and it’s surprising. It’s the moment where touch is mentioned. What happens when someone touches you? The answer in the film is that when something touches you it keeps reverberating for so long that you cannot but keep dying, as it were. You don’t die once and for all — once again the idea of repetition — but why? Because of — the German word is — “Entsetzen,” which is translated in the subtitles by “horror.” There is that anxiety; so we would have to integrate this dimension in the argument or arguments we are trying to develop here. That we are touched somehow. But then when we are touched — often people say art “touches.” We are touched by art. We are touched by this film, perhaps. We are touched by music, music touches. But how this “touch,” as it were, leaves us in this strange state, this strange immortality almost, where we can’t go on. We keep repeating something, because we are frozen almost. We are filled with anxiety. We don’t know where it will lead us. Touch is something so, so incredible. Touch is something so unbelievable. Touch is so impossible, almost, that if it’s really touch it must have that kind of effect. Touch is the most unbelievable thing of all. It seems the most normal thing and, in fact, touch is the most ... [long pause] [laughter].

Film Still
Film Still

BEWES: We have time for one last comment. Stuart?

STUART BURROWS: My comment goes back to the question of the music being diegetic or not diegetic or the idea of it being a kind of sound image, which I found pretty compelling. I felt there was a movement over the course of the film. For the first twenty minutes or so, when the characters are leaning toward one another, it’s like watching a scene from Elective Affinities. That strange, weird way in which they move slowly closer; but they are also in their own separate space, in a way, like each character occupies a different space. That even though there is radical proximity, it’s also as if they’re not aware of one another. It seems as if the awful horror, the threat of the cutting of the eye, the most impossible kind of awful touching imaginable, does something to the film; that in the second half of the film, there is some kind of reciprocity. There is some kind of communication happening. The genres are rather more discrete and there is a conversation between them.

BEWES: Thank you, Stuart. Thank you, everybody.